I'll add post number 3 about Graham Elliot's first Saturday night...
We really liked this restaurant. There were four of us at the table, so we decided to use a little ordering power and taste a good sized portion of the menu.
We started with the cold section. The Kobe beef tartare was the standout for me. The horseradish ice cream was a very cool touch, unfortunately it didn't stand a chance against some AC issues in the room last night. What I thought was really neat about this dish was the fact that it still tasted like a very well executed, classic steak tartare, just with some flourishes thrown in. I also tried the Caesar salad. I liked the salad, but not as much as the tartare. I would agree that the brioche was a little light on the filling, but it didn't bother me. The anchovies perched on the individual pieces of romaine were outstanding. Another person at our table had the raw tuna, and she said it was excellent. It looked like a pretty gorgeous piece of fish.
Next we moved on to "hot". I went with the Milwaukee-inspired risotto. I had what turned out to be an earlier version of this dish at Avenue's on New Year's Eve. Aged cheddar, bacon, PBR-braised onions, green apple, and Cheez-Its. What's not to like? The green apple was the key to this dish, providing a nice counter-point to the richness of all of the other ingredients. I also tried the gnocchi with fried egg, asparagus, and truffle oil. A pretty rich dish, but eating the gnocchi in the same bite as a piece of asparagus and a piece of runny egg was just fantastic. The gnocchi was just a little over salted, but it didn't take away from the dish too much.
For my main course, I had the pork chop. A gigantic piece of meat that blew me away with how tender and juicy it was. I thought the watermelon chutney was a nice cooling touch on top of the meat. The grits and the greens I thought were both good, but didn't really blow me away. I thought the sauce, that had a distinctive root beer taste was fantastic. A back yard BBQ on a plate kind of a dish that I really enjoyed. The Wife had the lamb, which I thought was quite good from the couple of bites I had. It came with an Israeli cous cous that was very tasty. I had a bite of the scallops. I thought they were cooked perfectly (nice sear on the outside, a little short of cooked through on the inside). The whole dish had a bold smokiness that I enjoyed, but I could see how this might not be for everyone. The 4th member of our table had the halibut that was pronounced "excellent".
We had 4 desserts to share across the table. I wound up with the gooey brownie in front of me, which I was reluctant to share with the rest of the table. Basically, this is everything I love in desserts on one plate (chocolate, peanut butter, banana). The rice crispy treats were a big hit, especially when eaten in combination with the strawberry and rhubarb they are accompanied by (I have to disagree with the "lipstick on a pig" comment, I thought these were fun). I wasn't nuts about the peach cobbler, but I really enjoyed the creme brulee (probably because I was the biggest coconut fan at our table).
Service was outstanding. Our server Jim who we know from several other restaurants is a real pro. He guided us through the menu and wine list expertly. He and many of the other members of the staff we spoke to are very excited and very passionate about the food and the restaurant. Jim was also nice enough to bring out 4 glasses of Muscat with dessert.
After dinner we decided to hang out in the lounge for a bit and try some cocktails. I had the London Calling, which is their take on a Pimm's Cup. I'm no cocktail expert, but I really enjoyed the drink. Very refreshing on a hot summer night. While we were having cocktails, Chef GEB came out to say hello, and his excitement over what was going on was just great to see. He was definitely exuding a "now the chains are off" kind of exuberance.
I have always been a huge fan of Chef Bowles' cooking, so I probably went into this meal a little bit biased. We had eaten at Avenues while he was there 3 times, and enjoyed each meal immensely. So, it was so great to be in an environment that was completely of the Chef's design, eating the food that he wants to be serving in an environment that he wants to be serving it. Incidentally, strip out a luxury ingredient or two, add a bit more whimsy, and this is basically what he was cooking at Avenues. But now you can get it at about half the price, and you can wear jeans.
One other thing...the foie-li-pop is on the late night menu. Two for $7. We had a round before out appetizers and they were just as good as they were at Avenues. Frozen foie covered in Pop Rocks. One more reason to love Graham Elliot.